Cincinnati Reds Vice President and longtime Media Relations Director Rob Butcher has made an annual January stop at the Sidney Rotary Club for over two decades. He was pleased that Monday’s trip to the Sidney American Legion marked the first time he encountered no construction obstacles (“orange barrels”) coming through Dayton.
A good crowd was on hand to hear Butcher’s opening comments and lengthy Q and A segment. Two solid inquiries came from senior Rotarian Bill Deam who will be 101 when first baseman Joey Votto’s contract expires after four more seasons.
Butcher’s timing was superb. His appearance coincided with the fourth major free agent signing of the Reds offseason, slugging outfielder Nick Castellanos whose complex deal may be for only one season.
Rob opened with an “under the radar” bit of information on an emerging topic. Major League Umpires just ratified a new four year agreement that includes language opening the door for balls and strikes being called electronically once the technology is mastered.
“This is being tested in the independent minor leagues. Progress is being made but many issues must be ironed out including how the size of the player and his stance factor into the strike zone. When the process is finalized, it could find its way to the major leagues in the future.”
Following the lead of both football and hockey, umpires and MLB are continuing to discuss the wearing of microphones to immediately announce details of replay decisions. This also required negotiation and implementation is pending.
Active rosters will move from 25 to 26 in 2020 with September rosters going to a maximum of 28 rather than the previous 40. Some details are still to be resolved. Relief pitchers will now be required to work to at least three batters or conclude an inning.
The 2019 Reds won just 75 of 162 games but pitching was not the problem. Many close games didn’t go their way. “While we’ve continued to upgrade our pitching, this winter has been mainly devoted to scoring more runs (at the major league level) and making sure we’re teaching consistently in all facets throughout our organization. We have new major league hitting coaches. We hit a club record 227 home runs last year but that was a trend throughout MLB.”
The other three free agents are second baseman Mike Moustakis (four years), lefty starter Wade Miley (two years), and Japanese outfielder Shogo Akiyama (three years). Shogo presents a language barrier but the Reds have hired his personal trainer to serve a dual role including interpreter. “We scouted him for over two years. He appreciated that we were the first MLB team to show serious interest,” Rob offered. “He was an all-star in Japan but will be considered a rookie here just like Ichiro when he first came over.”
With spring training less than a month away, are the Reds done dealing? “Hard to tell. We do have a lot of outfielders on a much improved roster.” Heading that holdover list are center fielder Nick Senzel (former second overall draft pick) and right fielder Aristedes Aquino (14 homers in August).
Tommy Thrall takes over as primary radio play-by-play with the retirement of Marty Brennaman after 46 seasons. “For being almost 78 years old Marty is in great shape and wants to be able to fully enjoy traveling and events like the Masters. Marty goes into our Hall of Fame on April 26.”
“The coolest moment of 2019 was the clubhouse party after Eugenio Suarez hit his 48th homer to set a new major league season record for home runs by a Venezuelan. His 49th (and final) home run gave him the top National League season homer total for a third baseman.”
Joey Votto: “Don’t worry about him. He got straightened out and will have a big year especially in this lineup.”
Just after 1 p.m. Butcher headed back to Cincinnati with a media conference to organize. The newest Red, Nick Castellanos was also headed to the Queen City to be introduced at 11 a.m. Tuesday morning. Rob really likes this acquisition. “Nick had 16 homers in 51 games for the Cubs late last season after four elite years in Detroit.”
Next week: Kobe and perfection.
Sports Extra appears each Friday. Ross has earned awards in Division II in the Ohio Associated Press Media Editor’s competition the last three years.